VIVE LE FRENCH FOOD
May 21, 2012 7 Comments
You never know how many friends you have until you buy a chateau in France.
With summer almost upon us, we are girding our loins for the usual influx of visitors. France is a favourite destination for millions of holiday makers from around the world, whether it’s the Dutch in their caravans, the Germans covering themselves only with oil and then covering all the beaches, the English heading for their second homes in the Dordogne or the Antipodeans trying to escape their winters and looking for free accommodation with their “mates”, often “incredibly close friends” that they haven’t spoken to in over 20 years.
“Time just passes so quickly … is it really 20 years ?”
But they are all, apart from the Dutch, mainly here for the French food. The Dutch are different from the other visitors to France as they are here to clog up the roads, and tend to bring all their food with them so that they don’t actually have to spend any money while they are in the country.
French cuisine is amongst the best in the world, though one does have to be very selective, as the days when the majority of restaurants in France actually had a well trained chef are fast declining (see “Vive le French cuisine” posted May 23, 2011).
Great French cooking is all about wonderful sauces, spectacular desserts and artistic presentation, but it is also about not wasting any part of the pig, or whatever animal has been sacrificed for the plate. Most visitors have by now heard of the French love for frog’s legs, snails and foiegras, though often with the mistaken belief that these make up a large part of our diet, rather than being an occasional delicacy.
Many visitors to France are surprised to learn that the most common and most popular meal in France (other than a Grand Mac et Coca) is steak and chips, though because the French do not believe in ageing their beef, this can be an interesting exercise in testing tooth strength. Despite this penchant for what would generally be considered an American meal choice, there are some unusual dishes that are more typically French and that first time visitors to France may need to be aware of before they decide to choose their meal in a restaurant using the “blindfold and pin” method of selection when faced with a menu that they do not understand.
Here are a few to test your culinary courage:
Andouilette is a sausage made of pig’s intestine with a distinctive taste and smell of faeces, making it the French equivalent of the Malaysian Durian. Andouilette is graded from A to AAAAA, being how much time has been allowed for a hose to wash the intestine out before cooking it. At just a single A rating, the intestine has been shown the hose but it has not actually been turned on, and every subsequent A in the rating seems to be equivalent to about 1 second of cleansing, but this will vary greatly based on available regional water pressures. The only way to eat this is in response to a dare involving a large amount of money andwhen you have a bad head cold. You should also never order Andouilette that has a lower A rating than France’s economy at the time, which according to Standard and Poor’s, is declining annually.
Tete de Veau is the face of a baby calf with the skin, hair and fat removed, as the taste is said to be revolting if this is not done properly (go figure), so if you are really desperate to pass as a local, you should only try this dish in a 3 star Michelin restaurant where the chef will have the skill to rip the face off the bone, wrap it around a tongue, prepare it in bouillon and then serve it garnished with the brains (and often with the ears) with a caper and vinegar sauce. As it is actually hard to find free available calves’ heads you should generally order this well ahead of time, allowing about 2 years, which will also give you enough time to rethink.
Tripe is not just a French dish as one can also find tripe and onions in the UK, which is not necessarily a recommendation. Tripe Lyonnais however is very French and is quite unusual in that Lyon is considered a wonderful culinary centre, so I have no understanding why they would lay claim to a dish that tastes like wallpaper paste, and if boiled long enough could actually be used as such. Tripe is the stomach lining of animals, generally beef, sheep or even goats at a push, which has been bleached and partially cooked by the time it gets to the consumer. If you wish to cook it in your holiday cottage, it should be well washed again, and then boiled for at least 4 hours or until tender, which will give you an immediate idea as to how good a meat it is to start with. You will need to sauté some onions the entire time that the tripe is boiling just to hide the smell, and then combine the onions with the boiled tripe after it has been sautéed in butter for 20 minutes, andadd some vinegar. Remember to garnish with parsley to make it even more delectable.
Coeurs de canard en brochette are duck hearts on a stick. I have always believed that “meat on a stick” is an area that has been largely overlooked as a true culinary fast-food takeaway, which could compete directly with “Le Colonel” and “Macdo’s”, as many French foods are well suited to potential stick-dom. I see a huge potential market for finger-licking delicacies such as “Rocky Montagne Huitres en brochette” and “Yeaux de Cochons en brochette”.